Artificial grass bristles underfoot, cut out eyes watch me from the walls and birds shriek from some unknown place as I maneuver through Dineo Seshee Bopape’s sprawling, exploded sculptural installation at The Hayward Gallery Project Space: her first solo exhibition in the UK. As you enter the room you are confronted by a mass of wires, rods, projections and stickers, with streamers draped in and amongst the rubble. Nestled in each corner are little monitors playing looped videos of grasses jittering in the wind. There is an atmosphere of restlessness and a sickly artificiality that is initially joyous, yet breeds a slow discomfort.
Moving on, I struggle through a heavy curtain to find myself in front of a rabbit spinning in a psychedelic vortex. why do you call me when you know i can’t answer the phone (2012) is a cacophonous, swirling video piece, where stock images float through a multi-coloured, over-saturated cyberspace. A kind of Google Image nightmare that feels both mesmerizing and stomach churning. Bopape describes this work as “a corruption of relationality”, likening the bombardment of images, signs and sounds to the development of Alzheimer’s. How can we imagine the feeling of reality slipping away? The pain of betrayal and how exquisite this must be when the perpetrator is one’s own mind. We recognize the images that float before us, yet any meaning or narrative eludes us. The use of generic clip-art stock imagery highlights this sense of alienation by removing vital traces of place or time that anchor meaning. At times this is comedic, frustrating and confusing.
The third room in Bopape’s slow-co-ruption invites you to watch is i am sky (2013) from the comfort of blue monochrome deckchairs. The artist appears before us from some windswept landscape, smiling and gazing towards the sky as the image pixelates and degrades. Her skin gives way to stars as the boundaries between dimensions tear and collapse. As the images shifts between real life and cosmic landscape, the sounds of wind on the microphone, deafening chimes and rhythmic drumming blare from a speaker behind my head. Made in part as a response to the trial of Julius Malema, convicted of hate speech for singing an (anti) apartheid-era song, the piece addresses politics, identity and memory. Bopape captures a sense of wanting to hang on to something; a place, a legacy or history as it slips away: “There is already much amnesia about the black struggle…it is an ongoing struggle, an ongoing song…”
slow-co-ruption feels to me much like a landscape. A degraded landscape where flora and fauna have been plasticized and digitalized: reduced to pixels and files ripe for corruption. Bopape transforms nature into some sickly, buzzing, glitching spectre. Every image and object, even sound, is opened out and expanded, so that meaning and connotation run into each other and blur. Everything is happening simultaneously and this sensory overload is both seductive and aggravating. I’m reminded briefly of Pipilotti Rist’s installation at Hauser and Wirth earlier this year, Worry Will Vanish (2014). Whilst Rist’s psychotropic, immersive journey through the undergrowth lulls you into a meditative stupor on the gallery floor, Bopape keeps you on your toes: bombards you with inescapable visual information. Motifs appear and reappear throughout the works; a colour, a shape, the grass beneath your feet. These unify installation with video, the real world gallery space with the hypnotic video cyberspace.
At face value this exhibition is playful, fun and excitingly garish, yet spending any time with these works reveals their darker, anxious undertones. There is a lyrical playfulness in Bopape’s language: “slow-co-ruption” perfectly describes the descent into nonsense and the breaking down of language, the rupturing of reality. I stand for a while, hypnotized by the jittering grasses buzzing on a glowing screen, nature reduced to a sad little throb of static lost in the concrete of the South Bank and wonder what my fellow viewers make of it all. I can imagine the confusion and saturation of her work could be quite frustrating unless you surrender yourself to the furor.
It would be unbearable if I weren’t enjoying it so much.